This is a bad movie. A bad, bad, very bad, awful, barely coherent waste of 70 minutes. The good news is, for we gluttons of substandard cinema, this flick is in the public domain, so it won’t cost anything to rent. Just head over to archive.org, and there it is, ready to ruin one’s evening for free.
From screenwriter John W. Steiner, and directed by shitty movie auteur Jerry Warren, The Incredible Petrified World tells the story of four intrepid explorers walking around in a cave. That’s about it. Oh, important plot point: the cave is at the bottom of the ocean. And that is it. Oh, wait, there’s also a guy in the cave, wearing, perhaps, the most hilarious wig and fake beard ever seen in film. And that, really, is it.
John Carradine plays Millard Wyman, an inventor who has convinced four souls to descend to the ocean floor in his experimental diving bell. Wyman won’t be joining them, because by 1959, when this flick was released, Carradine was already finished with roles that took effort. The four suckers he tricks into risking their lives for his glory are Craig Randall (Robert Clarke), Dale Marshall (Phyllis Coates), Paul Whitmore (Allen Windsor), and Lauri Talbott (Sheila Noonan).
The diving bell is a piece of glorious low-rent b-movie construction. It looks like a balsa wood frame with some canvas stretched over it, and it sways noticeably in the light ocean breeze as it hangs off the side of the expedition’s ship. Even better, when the shot changes to an interior set of the bell, it is very much bigger on the inside. Here we have a film that just doesn’t give a shit. High school play-quality sets are what Warren could afford, so that’s what viewers get.
The bell, with occupants, is lowered into the ocean, the cable holding it snaps, and down the bell goes to the bottom. No worries, though. The four crewmembers don wetsuits and swim to a cave (location shoots were done at Colossal Cave in Arizona), which happens to be dry and well-lighted on the inside. What’s funny to me about this is Warren and company ignored all known facts about water pressure, airlocks, and diving at depth, yet felt it necessary to explain that the cave has light because the rock is saturated with phosphorus. Whatever.
At this point, viewers might be expecting prehistoric monsters or savage Neanderthals to menace the group. Nope. They just kind of wander around the cave for a bit until they run into Ingol (Maurice Bernard), a shipwrecked sailor who has been trapped in the cave for over a decade.
It’s Ingol that has the crazy hair and beard. Warren also had Bernard stumble over his lines, as if he hasn’t spoken a word in a very long time. It’s silly and stupid, but also the only truly hilarious aspect of a movie that is marked by its dullness. It takes about an hour of its short running time to get to Ingol, but it feels twice as long. What happens after that? Everyone but Ingol gets rescued. The end.
The Incredible Petrified World is for shitty movie fans that love trolling on the bottom. It’s more bad than shitty, lacking in many of the bare necessities one expects from a film made by professionals. That could be one reason it sat on the shelf for a couple years before it was finally released as the back end of a double feature. Even Warren knew this dog wasn’t watchable.
I agree with Warren’s judgment, and cast this film down into the nether regions of the Watchability Index, amongst the most wretched of the wretched, displacing The Human Centipede at #318. Stay away, unless one really is a shitty movie masochist.